Lk.14:15-24 - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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Luke 14:15-24


Come to the Party.

Have you ever been in one of those family get-togethers when suddenly someone says something so unexpected or embarrassing that for a moment nobody knows quite what to say or do next? For a moment silence dominates and it is a very awkward and uncomfortable silence too. Then, after a while, someone tries to move the situation along by introducing a safe subject that will hopefully defuse the situation and relieve the tension. As good Brits we might do that by saying something like: "What lovely weather we’ve been having lately. How long do you think it’ll last?" We expect others to join in on this "safe" topic of conversation so that the earlier embarrassment can dissipate.

Well, if you’ve ever experienced anything like that then you are well placed to understand what was going on around the table as Jesus spoke to his host at the dinner party. Jesus had just told him he shouldn’t only invite the type of people who were sat there right at that moment with him at table! As Jesus brought his observations to a close he did so by making a reference to matter of rewards at the resurrection.

A Fellow Guest
Among Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries the general assumption was that participation in the resurrection and the blessings of God’s Kingdom was for the Jew alone and particularly for the godly Jew. Now, the folk at the dinner party that day included a large number of scribes and Pharisees and they all had strong religious beliefs. In fact these folk considered themselves to be the religious top dogs of their day; they were convinced that if anyone was going to sit at table in the Kingdom of God it was sure to be them!

This was the context and in this was the company in which one of Jesus’ fellow guests now spoke up:

Lk.14:15 ""Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!"

To talk about the blessings of eating in the Kingdom of God in such company was surely a safe topic of conversation; doesn’t everyone want to be there? Isn’t this a bit of a no-brainer? Surely this will allow the tension to subside for a moment; surely Jesus will be happy to agree with that!

Well that’s how I read the situation. I may of course be doing that particular guest an injustice: perhaps his comments expressed much more of a wistful longing for something he was unsure about. Maybe he desperately wanted to eat in God’s Kingdom and was worried he might miss out. What do you think?
Jesus certainly agreed that it would be a tremendous blessing to be able to eat in the Kingdom of God – but it is not something that can simply be taken for granted. His fellow guest’s interjection gave Jesus a wonderful opportunity to talk about making sure you would be in that Kingdom.

The Parable of the Great Banquet
You’d think that everyone would want to be able to feast in God’s Kingdom wouldn’t you? But the story that Jesus was about to cast quite a different light upon the matter.

As with all of Jesus’ parables the details are simple and readily understandable. Let me highlight them for you.

A man was preparing to hold a great feast, it would be a extravagant affair. His plan was to make it a wonderful occasion and he had drawn up his list of people he was going to invite and that list was a long one. The invites had all been sent out some time ago – the host had invited a great number of people, he wanted lots of people to come to his banquet.

And then the day came and everything was ready. The rooms were prepared, the food and the drinks too. All that was missing were the guests.

Following the customary practice of the day the host sent out his servant with the message that all was now ready. In a day before telephones, mobiles, text messages and facebook alerts this was how things were done. It was so common that some Jewish men boasted at the time that they never attended a feast unless they had been invited twice! So the servant went out with that second invite: it was time for his Master’s guests to assemble and enjoy the feast that had been prepared especially for them.

But no-one showed up!

The servant had done his job but now had the unenviable task of returning to his Master not being followed by a long line of guests but rather carrying a long list of their excuses.

As Jesus tells his story he tells us that everyone was the same – all the invited guests made excuses. Some sent their apologies and others excused themselves but none of them considered their invitations important enough to bother to turn up. In reality they didn’t value them very much at all.
Let’s look at this a little more closely. They all received their second and final invitation and they all reacted the same way:

v.18a "But they all alike began to make excuses."

Their excuses were all different but all to the same effect – they didn’t want to go.

Jesus gave three examples of the type of excuse that were made that day. I imagine he could have given many more examples but three were enough for his purpose.

1. The first excuse sets the tone; it was designed to sound reasonable, it was designed to sound plausible – but was it really?

v.18b "The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’"

Let me ask you what you think about this as an excuse? Does it sound plausible to you? Was it likely? Was it serious?

I wonder how many of you would think about buying some property never having seen it at all – I don’t think many of you would. Remember it was a day with no photos, no internet, and a buyer would normally want to look at his potential purchase before launching in.

But maybe, you say, he bought it off plan – people today will sometimes buy a house before it’s been built by looking carefully at the architect’s drawings. Others will use a property agent working on their behalf – perhaps this man had an agent he trusted and bought on the recommendation of his agent... Well, if he trusted the recommendation of his agent enough to buy the property why the sudden urgency to see the land the very day he’d been invited to this important banquet? It was highly unlikely that the land would be significantly different if he postponed his tour of inspection for a day or two.

No, the excuse was just that – it was a pretext for not going to the feast but not the real reason. He just didn’t think the feast he was invited to sounded appealing enough – he was much more interested by other things, in this instance a field. Here was a man who certainly was not bothered to "seek first the kingdom of God" but he was quite ready to pursue the things of this world even if to do so meant "losing his own soul".

By not showing up he offended and dishonoured the host of the feast. In effect he was saying that he’d rather be in a field than at a dinner table with that man but he tries to cover this up by sending his lane apologies and asking to be excused

2. What about the next man? Was his case any better?

v.19 "And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’"

Once again there is an attempt to make the rejection of the invitation sound less unreasonable than it really was. How easily men and women find it to come up with their excuses!

In the first case it was a piece of land and in this second it was about some animals who would be used to work the land.

Was it essential for the new owner of these oxen to test them that very day? We may well be tempted to think that it was important and perhaps pressing with farming deadlines to be met etc.etc. But let’s stop and think a little bit more.

How many yoke of oxen did Jesus say he had? Really? Five! Yes, five! We’re talking about a wealthy man here, a man who had extensive lands – why else would he need so many teams of oxen? And a wealthy man with such extensive lands would also have to have servants to work the land for him – he certainly couldn’t have worked all the oxen himself alone! So even if seed-time or harvest was pressing there was surely a qualified servant who could test those new oxen! But in all likelihood waiting another day or so would also have been fine too. This man, just like the first, simply didn’t value the invitation he had received.

The simple fact of being invited was enough for him as it is for many today too. Oh yes, he’d probably have been offended if he had been passed over when the invites were sent out but he had all he needed and he certainly didn’t need to trouble himself with accepting the invitation and going to the banquet.

3. Now after seeing that the first two excuses were not really justified it’s time to consider the third. It was a family matter and to so many family must always come first, trumping everything else. What was it he said?

v.20 "And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’"

At first sight this would seem to be a much more legitimate reason – after all the law of the OT dispensed a newly married man from a number of responsibilities he would otherwise have to fulfil. For example, a newly married was allowed to avoid military service during his first year of marriage – so what about this case?

Well again, let’s ask some questions.

We do have the distinct impression that the initial invitation had not been turned down. And as marriages are usually planned some time in advance that first invitation could have been rejected if it clashed with a planned marriage. To deliberately plan a marriage at a time when an invitation had already been accepted does not look like a promising start.

We’re not to imagine that the feast would somehow interrupt the honeymoon either because we need to remind ourselves that honeymoons are a relatively recent phenomenon. The word doesn’t appear in the English language until the 16 th century and the practice of a newlywed couple going away on holiday together did not begin until the 19 th century.

It would appear that freeing a man from military service was designed to allow the couple to build a strong foundation to their marriage. And one of the ways that marriage could be well-established would be by doing pleasant things together – like, for example, going to a grand banquet together. Most wives would see that as a positive and not a negative but this man doesn’t want to go and simply uses his marriage as a pretext.

The servant has had to report back to his boss and to say that his boss was not best pleased with what he heard would be an understatement – he was furious. He understood that the excuses were pretexts and a snub to him. These invited guests who thought so highly of themselves thought too much of themselves and in so doing effectively shut themselves out of the wonderful meal that had been so carefully prepared. The host was now set against them and was determined that as they had so rejected him that they would never have access to his feast.

My friends, are you in danger of acting like those foolish people who sent in excuse after excuse? Oh your excuse might not be identical to those offered that day but what are you doing with the invitations that you have received to come to Christ, to have your sins forgiven, to have new life, and to have a place secured in the Father’s house? There will be a grand feast in heaven – it’s known as the marriage feast of the Lamb and you can be there, you are invited, but how are you responding to the invitation? If the servant were to come to you the second time to say that all was ready what would you do? Would you be eager to drop everything else and go to Christ for all eternity or would you be found with too many other priorities in your earthly existence?

There is an expression in the Bible that is a very sobering one if only we took time to think about it seriously: it says "God is not mocked". Are you mocking God by the way in which you’re dealing with his gracious invitations to receive his Son? Are you putting off, putting off, putting off because you think you’ve got something more interesting, more important, to do? But really, my friend, what could be more important than securing the safety of your never-dying soul before it is lost forever?

But Jesus hasn’t finished his parable yet and we must return to it.

The feast must go on! That is the determined decision of the host. Just because some self-serving invited guests will not come does not mean that the feast will be spoiled or go to waste – others will be brought in and the great banquet will be a great success.

Sometimes people judge the Christian faith by considering the number and quality of people they think are responding – they reason within themselves that if it were really true then more people would be responding, respected leaders from all walks of life would be responding. If they’re not then that really is a good indication that there’s nothing in this Christianity business – it’s not at all what it’s cracked up to be. But God’s banquet depends for its success upon God himself – you can pass it by if you want to but how foolish you would be to do that!

The servant has been having a busy and so far a pretty stressful day. I hope he had some helpers but if he did they’re not mentioned in the story. For the servant is about to be sent out again this time with some fresh invitations and he’s told to be quick about it – there is urgency in the air – the banquet is prepared and folk must be brought in to share in it. He’s sent to go about the city and to find the poor and needy and bring them in.

How keen the Master is to have people at his banquet!

Well the servant went off again and gathered folk together bringing them back to the banqueting hall. He went to his Master and told him adding that there were still spaces left to be filled.

Again the Master sent him out, this time to the countryside to bring in yet more needy people. The instruction was given "Compel them to come in."

Now sadly in church history some have interpreted this literally to mean that force and persecution can be used to make people Christians but nothing could be further from the truth. The words are found in the context of a story, a parable. The words are addressed to a single man – how could he possibly bring crowds of reluctant people in by force? No, he was to convince these folk that he went to that the invitation he carried was genuine, there really was a feast, they really were invited, everything was ready and there was no mistake. If these folk, who didn’t consider themselves among the spiritual elite nor in any way worthy of such an invitation suddenly received an invitation they really might need some convincing that it was all true! Otherwise they might have thought it was a trick, a ruse, some sort of cruel joke or a further piece of mockery. The servant’s task was to convince them that they really were welcome to come!

I must tell you all the same thing today.

  • There is a great feast, a gospel feast, that has been prepared for sinners who have forfeited all claims they might have had on God yet God in gracious generosity invites you to come.

  • This gospel feast is ready – all that is needful has been done – you don’t have to work for it – all you need to do is receive the invitation and respond positively to it. You have no-one to try to impress, no special deeds to perform, no points to earn, forget any ideas about your own worthiness – his invitation is all you need to come.

  • But you’re not to imagine that merely hearing the invitation makes you somehow special enough for God – remember the first to receive invites all failed to benefit because they didn’t do anything with their invite – they didn’t come to the feast. God invites you and you must respond by coming!

My friends what will you do with the invitation that you are hearing again today? Will you take it away and stick in in your back pocket and forget all about it as you get on with all those seemingly more interesting, more appealing, more pressing matters? Or will you respond eagerly today to Jesus?

The self-satisfied in Jesus’ story missed out on the feast because the Master shut the door against them when they despised him and his offers. How awful if he had to treat you the same way!

Don’t be shut out – come to Jesus Christ and feast!


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